Practicing the 4R principles—right fertilizer at the right rate, right time and right placement—is ingrained in Lynn Fahrmeier’s farming philosophy. When he began raising row crops and livestock with his father in the 1980s, Fahrmeier said he recognized the need for sustainability and stewardship on their operation in Wellington, Mo.
Now, those efforts have been recognized nationally with the 4R Advocate Award, presented annually by The Fertilizer Institute to champions of nutrient management. Fahrmeier and MFA Precision Ag Specialist Scott Bergsieker were awarded the honor on March 3 at the Commodity Classic in San Antonio.
Farhmeier farms 2,300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat and raises 200 Katahdin sheep, 40 head of cattle and eight hives of honey bees. He said the goals of his operation are to improve profitability, leave the farm in better condition for future generations, incorporate a balanced approach to productivity and reduce impacts to the environment.
In the late 1980s, Fahrmeier switched from conservation tilling to no-till, except on acres with heavy clay soils that required vertical tillage. When soil-sampling shifted from field composite samples to 2.5-acre grids in the mid-1990s, he was all for it.
“I’ve always believed in the importance of soil sampling,” Fahrmeier said. “I’m just too tight to throw fertilizer on the ground not knowing if it needed it or not. Now it’s all part of the 4Rs, and we sample by management zone, which helps us put the right product in the right place and in the right amount. If you’re not sampling, you’re guessing.”
Bergsieker works with Fahrmeier through MFA Agri Services in Lexington to develop these management zones using data the progressive producer has collected through the years. In addition to soil-sampling records, Fahrmeier began collecting yield data in 1995.
“At that time, there were only three yield monitors in the state of Missouri,” Fahrmeier said. “Two of them were based out of Lexington, and I was one of them.”
The longevity of this data benefits both Bergsieker and Fahrmeier when they sit down to develop the farm’s management zones. Recently, it held added value when they worked together with Matt Stock, MFA precision account sales manager, to retrofit Fahrmeier’s John Deere 1790 planter with Precision Planting’s vSet Select meter. This technology enables Fahrmeier to change seed varieties during planting without getting out of the tractor. This never-before-attempted project took time, effort, teamwork and collaboration with Precision Planting’s own staff to work out the kinks they encountered in the process, Fahrmeier said.
“I guess I like to keep my fingers bloody being on the cutting edge of stuff,” Fahrmeier joked. “But, if this technology works in the I-states where they don’t have nearly as much variability, then it should really work here. That’s the theory.”
He used the multi-variety capabilities on his corn acres for the first time in 2016. This year, the team will analyze his last six years of soybean yield data to build a new prescription from scratch, rotating those corn acres to soybean acres.
“Just recently, Lynn and I met to determine where the management zones will be,” Bergsieker said. “Once your zones are figured out, you need to work with your seed folks to determine what varieties or hybrids will work best. It really takes a group effort to get the planter prescription right.”
Fahrmeier and Bergsieker said they look to the recommended 4R principles when planning fertilizer applications. According to The Fertilizer Institute, these principles were designed collaboratively by industry leaders to benefit the environment and producers’ bottom line.
Fahrmeier applies nitrogen with N-serve, a nitrogen stabilizer, in the fall. He also uses variable-rate technology for phosphorus and potassium application in the fall or spring.
“Lynn likes to be the first to try something new,” Bergsieker said. “It’s in his blood. He wants to do the right thing while increasing production to feed a growing population. As a precision ag specialist, it’s my duty to make sure every pound of fertilizer ends up in Lynn’s crops. By applying 4R nutrient stewardship practices, we get the job done.”
To keep nutrients in the fields, Fahrmeier flies in a winter rye, turnip and radish cover crop mix on 25 to 50 percent of his corn acres into the standing corn crop. Cattle and sheep then rotationally graze those cover crops in the fall and spring to prevent overgrazing traditional pasture ground.
To prevent runoff, Fahrmeier created terraces in his hilly terrain areas and a 150-foot riparian corridor next to the creek that runs through his property. Most fields also have buffer strips on field borders. Fifteen of Fahrmeier’s acres are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, and he established food plots for wildlife and hunting.
These management approaches work well, Fahrmeier said. His corn yields have more than doubled over the past 30 years, and his soybean yields have nearly reached the same mark, all while using less fertilizers.
“I view everything as a total management package,” Fahrmeier said. “Everything works together. Changing my fertility program is part of a total management plan to increase yield. With precision planting, we do a better job of singulating seed. With zone management, we’re putting the right amount of fertilizer on for the high-yielding areas and low-yielding areas. We’ve increased our knowledge and management skills to go along with all these advances.
“Combine that with following the 4Rs, and we’re bound to make things better.”